Key Work



During the pandemic our idea of what constituted “key work” dramatically shifted. From healthcare staff to delivery drivers, teachers, parents, refuse workers, and retail staff, the collective efforts of key workers played a hugely important role in keeping the country running.

The impact of lockdown on key workers is not fully understood yet, but — perhaps unsurprisingly — early studies point to increased exposure to coronavirus and increased stress and mental illness. Many of the submissions we received reflect on the experience of work (paid and unpaid) throughout the pandemic.


This photo captures a front garden in Hathersage, July 2020. The image depicts a cardboard display mocking Dominic Cummings, the chief adviser to Boris Johnson between 2019-2020, after he broke lockdown rules by travelling to Barnard Castle.


Created in 2020, this scarf is a dedication to the NHS and to the thousands of key health workers who cared for us during the early months and years of the pandemic.


Taken in Forge Dam during the first lockdown, the image depicts the phrase “no second jog” sprayed onto a tree. This reflected the lockdown rules in place from March to May 2020, that stated you could only leave your home for “one form of exercise” per day.

Blowing Our Own Trumpets /

Liz Noble, Jo Rucklidge and Anna Wiggins are three women who share a need to be creative. They met as colleagues, but are also friends, neighbours, and collaborators under the collective name, Blowing Our Own Trumpets. Throughout 2020, they met regularly online and found creative outlets for their experiences, ideas and challenges. This manifested itself in three relay-style artworks, where each entry was produced physically on the page of a concertina sketchbook, and delivered by hand to the next recipient. Liz, Jo and Anna have sustained companionship and creativity — making alone, together.






The pandemic had two phases for me. Until June 2020 I was living in Scarborough, then I moved to Sheffield.



“I work full-time as an academic. My husband also works full-time. We were both working exclusively from home during the pandemic and also had our four-year-old daughter at home, along with a poochon puppy who joined us in August 2020.



Moving to Sheffield meant being physically closer to my family – my Mum, my Dad and step-Mum, and my two sisters and their families – but before, when we lived in Scarborough, we communicated a lot via WhatsApp and had regular videocalls. My Mum was always keen to call to speak with her granddaughter or watch her playing – she often sent toys or craft things so she would be keen to see how these had been used. For a while we would do a Friday night quiz with my Dad, step-Mum and sisters via Zoom. This only lasted a couple of months – we were all generally exhausted by the end of the week and only fit for collapsing in front of the telly – a LOT of TV was watched in our house during lockdown.

Moving to Sheffield happily coincided with people being able to visit each other’s gardens and meet in outdoor spaces, so we did that, and later there was a time when we could ‘eat out to help out’ so there were pub meals and coffee shop meet ups to add to meeting in parks and gardens for BBQs and drinks – I was lucky enough to have my birthday during August 2020 so was able to have people into our garden to celebrate – we filled it with balloons and banners and an assortment of chairs – as we’d just moved we didn’t have proper garden furniture – we even had a bouncy castle. 

In Scarborough we lived in a first-floor flat and only had a shared yard as outdoor space, so having our own garden in Sheffield was such a liberating and exciting thing for us as a family. Since last summer we’ve spent so much money and time making it even more suitable for us and can’t wait to be able to have more folks over this summer.

In Scarborough we were physically close to the old couple who lived in the flat below us and shared the yard with us. And we knew a few other families on the street. Our daily walks meant lots of chances to say a distanced ‘hello’ as we walked around our neighbourhood. We’ve not got the same experience in our new place yet. We did get to know the family next door, but they’ve since moved and the house hasn’t been re-let.



I am a feminist – professionally! A feminist scholar, researching, writing, and teaching about gender and equality in the context of work and society. In April 2020 my university offered staff the chance to apply for funding for research related to the pandemic. I applied to explore how teachers were impacted. I’m really proud of the outputs from this project, especially because each one was achieved through hard work in very difficult circumstances. The interviews with teachers, each taking around an hour, were done in the evenings, after already exhausting days for me – and for the teachers, who kindly gave up their time to talk to me. Many said it was quite a cathartic experience to talk to someone about how they had adapted during COVID. Particularly difficult was the interview with one woman who had moved out from her family home during the first lockdown, to look after her parents, but this had meant 6 weeks of not seeing her husband or 4-year-old daughter. I think it again made me realise how terribly difficult some women had it and that my own circumstances shouldn’t be moaned about. But it really chimed with me, especially as her daughter and mine are the same age. 

I also realised I was grieving for the loss of time with my older relatives. And the loss of time they would otherwise have had with their grandchildren. My Grandmother, with advanced dementia, doesn’t have any chance of recognising my daughter now. 

My research project with teachers led to me meeting a colleague from the education department of my university. She was at a Zoom seminar when I was presenting the findings. We instantly clicked and have begun writing together – we have a good overlap of interests, as she had done her doctorate on teachers working part-time. We’ve now published together and have other work in the pipe-line. 

I joined the menopause network in my university and organised a ‘cake and conversation’ event within my department, where women talked about their symptoms and ways to alleviate them. 

I’ve been asked to create a detailed proposal for a big publisher for a book about teaching post-COVID, and my colleague from education and I are writing and researching about teachers and menopause. So professionally things are looking great. I’ve even received a teaching award nomination for the support I have given to my students. One student told the panel “they empowered me especially coming from a different country, they tried to understand where my issues are with my grades, and they showed that they have faith me which is really important”. As a feminist scholar I’ve lots to be proud of and lots more exciting work to come – I hope to become the department Gender Equality Champion in September.

But I really miss living by the sea. And I feel lots of guilt about having not been the greatest parent and wife (and daughter and sister). On an intellectual level I realise it’s not possible to be all things to all people – but desperately hope that my daughter remembers the fun times we had during lockdown – the pavement chalking, the biscuit baking, the teddy cinema we set up – and her memories won’t include the times I lost it, snapped and shouted, then soaked her in my tears as I apologised and hugged her too tightly.

Illustration of a wooden door, ajar in its frame


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